Glove Etiquette in the 1800s

Glove etiquette
Woman Wearing Gloves, Courtesy of Wikipedia

One writer noted, “a glove is an object of luxury, elegance and refinement,” which made them a frequent fashion accessory. In fact, both men and women wore gloves in the 1800s. But when wearing gloves required people to follow all sorts of etiquette rules. One etiquette book demonstrated this perfectly. It advised women in no uncertain terms to “never go out without gloves; put them on before you leave the house. You should no more be seen pulling your gloves in the street than tying the strings of your bonnet.” Women could also not button up their gloves after they left their house. Their toilette was supposed to be complete before they opened the door to step outside. Other glove etiquette rules required men and women to navigate them, as well as consider the rules for glove etiquette indoors and out, in warm or cold weather, and at funerals, balls, or dinner parties.

Women in Gloves, Public Domain
Women in Gloves, Public Domain

Different etiquette rules existed for glove wears indoors than outdoors. For instance, indoors, a gentleman could not offer a lady his gloved hand. Men were also advised that when going places where they were likely to meet people,  it was “well to have the glove of your right hand off.” When a gentleman called on a friend, he was told to “remove the glove from your right hand before grasping his, or if necessary … retain the glove, [and] apologize.” Another suggestions advised men to leave their “hat, gloves, overcoat, and cane in the hall.” However, the rule was different in a gentleman’s own home. He was advised his hands should not be gloved when receiving. The only time it was appropriate was if “they call when you are dressed for going out, and the significance or your being gloved will be understood.”

People sometimes wore gloves outdoors for comfort. Other times they provided protection against cold or inclement weather. If a person did wear gloves outdoors, the gloves were to be removed when shaking hands. This was because, as one etiquette expert put it, “it is ridiculous to keep the person waiting while extricating the hand from the glove.” Another consideration for a gentleman when deciding whether or not to remove his gloves was the temperature of his hand. One etiquette book stated, “it is much better to offer the covered hand than to offend the lady’s touch [by offering a cold hand].” Additionally, when meeting an elderly gentleman in the street, a gentleman was advised to “withdraw your own glove instantly, and desire him not to take his off.”

People wore gloves in warm weather also. In fact, people were more likely to wear gloves when it was warm than when the weather was cold. This was because if a gentleman took a woman’s hand, “the perspiration of [his] … bare hand would be very likely to soil her glove.” A gentleman also needed to think about what to do if he was wearing dark gloves and the woman was wearing light or white gloves. In such cases gentlemen were advised to avoid touching a woman’s hand altogether, as “dark gloves … may soil her white ones.” If for some reason a woman was ungloved, proper etiquette called for the gentleman to remove his gloves before taking her hand, as it was discourtesy to behave otherwise.

Woman Putting on Gloves, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Woman Putting on Gloves, Courtesy of Wikipedia

As a person was “known by his glove,” glove wearers were also advised to avoid wearing “shabby or ill fitting…glove[s].” It also didn’t matter where a person went or visited. Wearing shabby or ill-fitting gloves ruined a person’s overall look, and gloves were always a requirement in public. One etiquette expert noted that “gloves for town wear should be of a light, delicate tint, as such a glove has an air of elegance and finish. Gloves for the country may be stouter; but the material must be kid and the fit perfection.” However, at least one etiquette book advised women to wear gloves of kid skin. The reason why? Because “silk or cotton gloves are very vulgar.”

Depending on the event, certain colors of gloves were worn. Funerals for instance required certain glove colors. Prepared undertakers stood waiting “with gloves of various sizes, in order to suit each [mourner].” Undertakers distributed white gloves at funerals for children or unmarried persons. White gloves were also distributed to mourners at funerals for women who died in childbirth. However, undertakers distributed black gloves at funerals for married people, widows, or widowers. Relatives of the deceased person usually paid for the gloves. After the funeral, distributed gloves were not returned, rather they were “kept by the wearers.”

Woman Wearing Gloves, Public Domain
Woman Wearing Gloves, Public Domain

In the 1800s, gloves of suitable material, color, and style were worn when in full dress or when attending balls or parties. This occurred because people offered a gloved hand when greeting one another. In the 1870s, light colored gloves were more acceptable as they were considered more delicate and elegant. If a woman had a limited budget and could not afford a large stock of different colored gloves, neutral tints tended to suit any outfit she might select. Light gloves were also popular with gentlemen. One etiquette book noted, “light gloves are more esteemed than dark ones, and the prince of glove-colors is undeniably, lavender.” By the 1890s, white was the preferred glove color for both men and women. The pale or “delicate tints preferred for evening parties.” Additionally, on formal occasions if a guest met an ungloved host or hostess, the host or hostess was advised to “have no occasion to feel offended if others also in full dress should extend a salutation with a gloved hand.”

When attending a dinner party, people followed other glove etiquette rules. Ladies were cautioned to “never dine with their gloves on—unless their hands [were] not fit to be seen.” Additionally, people never removed their gloves until after being seated. The person then placed his or her gloves on his or her lap. The lap was the spot where the gloves remained throughout the meal, and a person’s napkin was the only thing placed over the gloves. At the end of the meal, after the final course—which was usually nuts or fruit—a person dipped his or her fingers into a finger glass or bowl. Then they dried their fingers and replaced their gloves. However, they did so “quietly and slowly, keeping [their] … hands … a little below the table.”

By the end of the 1800s, the importance of gloves changed. Gloves were considered optional at social events. However, people still wore gloves for most occasions. Gloves were worn regularly “on the street, at evening parties, to the opera, or theatre, at receptions, at balls, at church, when making a call, riding or diving, but not at a dinner.” Gloves by this time were not as well-regarded or prized as they had been in the early 1800s. The importance of gloves at the beginning of the 1800s, can be demonstrated by the following story. A nineteenth century dandy possessed a room devoted to gloves. Moreover, he had “a table … always laid out with ‘all the delicacies of the season,’ in the way of gloves … his friends were at liberty to help themselves [and, it was said of him that he] himself never used to put on [the same] pair of gloves twice.”

References:

  • Day, Charles William, Etiquette, 1843
  • Decorum, 1883
  • Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen, 1876
  • Gaskell, George A., Gaskell’s Compendium of Forms, 1885
  • Hartley, Cecil B., The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, 1873
  • Hartley, Florence, The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness, 1872
  • Houghton, Walter Raleigh, Rules of Etiquette & Home Culture, 1893
  • Keim, De Benneville Randolph, Hand-book of Official and Social Etiquette and Public Ceremonials at Washington, 1889
  • The Hand-book of Etiquette, 1860
  • The Perfect Gentleman, Or, Etiquette and Eloquence, 1880
  • The Polar Star, Being a Continuation of ‘The Extractor, of Entertainment and Popular Science, 1830

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